Shutting down the “Miracle Machine”

Friday 14 July 2017

On the 11th of July 2017 Daniel Sarewitz, co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes at Arizona State University, released a column in Nature about the “miracle machine”, a fictive machine based on basic science that according to some researchers drives the economy. Despite of decades of scholarship that suggest that fundamental science is most effective in contributing to social goals when it is pursued in the context of practical problem solving, some still believe the miracle machine, based on unfettered, curiosity-driven basic research to be the foundation for technological innovation and economic growth.

“The problem with this believe is not just that it is misleading, but that by continuing to use it, scientists put the research enterprise itself in jeopardy” states Sarewitz. “Of course, serendipity and curiosity play a part in science, as in all aspects of innovation, but the history of modern innovations show that important contributions of basis science are grounded in ‘use inspired’ research, not in leaving scientists to their own devices. A major reason that pervasive problems such as poor quality publications, hyper-competition and hype have been allowed to fester is the miracle machine ideology: give us money, leave us alone and we’ll solve the world’s problems.”

According to Sarewitz improvement of research could rise “if science agencies strengthened the ties that link research agendas to social needs, and counteract the perverse incentives that commit scientist to careers measured by publications and grant dollars rather than the creation of socially valuable knowledge. After all: Exceptional science is produced not my a miracle machine, but by institutions that tie scientific curiosity to problem solving.”

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